WMU Scribing: Maran Subramain on Communications Challenges in Evaluation

My name is Maran Subramain and I am a graduate student at Western Michigan University. I served as a session scribe at Evaluation 2010 and attended session number 577, Communication: At What level Does It Help or Hinder Evaluation Capacity? I chose this session because, as a fairly new graduate student in the evaluation program, I am interested in understanding the competencies that are needed by an evaluator, and communication or interpersonal skill is one of them.

Lessons Learned: This session explained about how volunteer board members can better serve in an evaluation association; and the challenges and benefits of small school district program evaluation. Here are some of the substances that I gained:

  • Small evaluation associations should limit the number of projects they are involved in and should form a strong committee for some of the projects they are involve in. By doing so, the association can better focus and manage the projects.
  • Attending a lot of board meetings and replying to a large volume of emails could be a burden to volunteer board members. Closer attention must be given to communication during the initial stages of board meetings or in emails so that ineffective communication between volunteer board members and information seekers can be avoided.
  • The second presentation explained the challenges and benefits of a program evaluation conducted in a small town in central Florida. The evaluators benefitted from direct communication with major stakeholders, easy access to schools, the program, and families, and less bureaucratic decision making.
  • Challenges encountered included the evaluators being viewed as ‘outsiders’ to the program when they were collecting data, and changes were hard to make due to various parties’ personal interests.
  • Small scale program evaluation can be as challenging as, or more challenging than, in a large school setting.

Hot Tip: I think there is a great potential for this topic to be developed more. For example, will any particular skills such as positivity and openness make the evaluator-stakeholder communication better? Or, can nonverbal cues such as ‘toning down’ the evaluators’ dress code when they visit very poor families help evaluators to gain more information? These ‘soft skills’ are not explored widely in evaluation, and they may bring lot of benefits if it is studied properly.

At AEA’s 2010 Annual Conference, session scribes took notes at over 30 sessions and we’ll be sharing their work throughout the winter on aea365. This week’s scribing posts were done by the students in Western Michigan University’s Interdisciplinary PhD program. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice.

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